By Jim Bishop.
At the end of my freshman year of college, my parents moved from the Spring Shadows subdivision in Spring Branch, home of Spring Woods High School, to an unincorporated wooded area north of Houston simply known as Spring. They built a two story house on a corner lot in a quasi-French style and lived there for the next 25 years.
Surrounding the house were large oaks and pines, most so tall that their first branches were above the second story of the house...leading my younger brother - much to my father's dismay - to dub it the telephone pole factory. Over the years, most of the trees would be removed -- some by tornado.
That first summer my mother and I installed the landscape. We ignored the tradition of a row of foundation shrubs around the house, and instead used curved brick walkways and deep planting beds full of layers of plants. We used treated 'peeler logs', made from the centers of trees leftover from creating plywood, to separate the beds from the lawn and create a mowing strip to one wheel of the mower along. My father complained that there wasn’t enough lawn and the neighbors would think we were crazy. We used the latest plant introductions, including a hybrid St. Augustine grass that was chinch bug resistant, so required less pesticide.
We started with a brick path along one side of the house and another from the back patio to the vegetable garden behind the garage. The front of the house was mostly boxwoods, hollies, azaleas, flowering quince, ivy, liriope, and pittosporums. My mother always wanted a redbud tree, so we planted one in the curve of the front walk. At the street we flanked the walk with watermelon-pink crepe myrtles. To block the view of the neighbor's driveway, I placed a loquat tree near the property line, along with variegated Pittosporum tobria, leaving them untrimmed to create a 6 foot tall screen. At the front corner of the lot, mother planted a 1 gallon Southern magnolia which grew to dominate that area. To decrease the amount of west sun on the front of the house we planted a dozen one gallon pines, which grew so large that 15 years later all but one was removed. In another island bed, we planted a bareroot pecan tree with a 3 foot tap root. In planting it we learned how high the water table was. One of us dug out the heavy clay soil while the other baled the water that kept filling the hole. We surrounded the tree with hybrid triploid daylilies we bought from a local hybridizer.
In one island bed we planted roses. None did well except Queen Elizabeth (God Save the Queen!). Between the long hot humid summer, bugs, and diseases, it is almost impossible to grow hybrid roses in Houston.
In the back yard, we installed hydrangeas underplanted with violets and impatiens. Another exceptionally wide bed received dogwoods, gardenias, oxalis, cast iron plants and amaryllis. At the end of the garage mother planted a bottle brush, wrapped every winter to keep it from freezing. Other beds contained hybrid azaleas, newly introduced bush cultivars of crepe myrtle and fruit trees.
In summer mother planted celosia, which grew 4 feet tall with brilliant flame-like flower spikes in yellow, orange, red, burgundy and purple. Mom would make huge bouquets of them at Thanksgiving. Unfortunately, celosia is a wind pollinator and I developed a severe allergic reaction - ah the joys of gardening in Houston!
Jim Bishop has been a member of San Diego Horticultural Society since its first meeting and was elected SDHS President in August 2011.